13 Tips for Driving Cross Country on Highway 80

When I decided to go to Detroit to help my father with some family responsibilities, I knew I would be there a few weeks. And while it meant the difference between a simple 5-hour flight from San Jose, California or a 40-hour drive along highway 80, I couldn’t bring myself to leave my dog behind.

So, we hopped in the car and embarked on a journey across country. I searched online for savvy travel tips for driving cross country with a dog, but practical advice was hard to find. Most people travel with someone else so all of the advice was about the best diners or snake ranches on Route 66.

I learned so much during those eight days of driving cross country with my faithful collie. Maybe some of what I learned can help someone else.

Here are 13 tips I hope will make your highway 80 road-trip easier:

truck stop, sunrise, cheyenne, wyoming, highway 80 roadtrip
A truck stop at dawn in Cheyenne, Wyoming

1. Hotels that take pets are generally three-star or less.

So you’re looking at the likes of Hampton Inn, Holiday Inn Express or La Quintas. They can be quite nice and vary greatly depending on the location so check Trip Advisor for reviews.

2. Don’t go more than two miles an hour over the speed limit.

I found this out from the nice highway 80 patrolman who recommended it when he stopped me for going 11 miles over the speed limit (and kindly only gave me a warning).

3. Truck stops are a good place to stop for gas.

Truck drivers are stopping there for showers and food and can help watch out for your safety. Plus, truck stops have lots of amenities.

bonneville salt flat rest area, collie, dog, bonneville salt flat, highway 80, roadtrip
My collie, Lady, at the Bonneville Salt Flat rest area in Utah

4. Don’t skip over the sight-seeing along i-80

I was surprised at how great state rest areas are around highway 80. They’re set up so you can drive off and on to the freeway without looping back, so quick stops are abbreviated. Also, rest areas often have nice areas to walk your dog along with staff on-hand, so they’re fairly safe. The best rest area I’ve ever seen was the Bonneville Salt Flats stop in Utah. It’s a rest area and a destination in one.

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5. Don’t be afraid to order delivery.

When you’re traveling with a dog it’s tough to dine out, but luckily the front desk folks at every hotel provided me with menus for restaurants that delivered to my room (mostly Chinese food or pizza). I used Yelp to choose the best.

6. Factor in extra time for stops and rests.

It’s hard to know how many hours you’ll be able to drive every day, but you’ll find out and it’ll make planning easier. For me, the distance Google Maps says takes 9 ½ hours is right. When you stop along the way to use the restroom, get gas or walk the dog, it ends up being about 10 hours.

7. Early bird catches the worm. 

It pays to start driving at 6 a.m. each day because you’ll end up at the hotel with daylight and time to settle in, walk the dog, order dinner and get a little down time before you go to sleep. Plus, you miss traffic if you start early.

8. Book your accommodation in advance.

I tried using Hotels.com to book my hotels by phone close to the end of each day. However, I ended up paying about $10-20/night extra for the rooms and one room was so filthy I had to leave and find another hotel. You’ll get better results using TripAdvisor to map out your hotels and book them before you leave on your trip.

rock formations, highway 80, road trip, utah, geology
Rock formations on Highway 80 in Utah

9. Get into podcast mode.

Download 20 or 30 podcasts for your trip. The better the podcast the faster the time will pass. Better yet, satellite radio provides endless options.

10. Stock up on water for the trip.

I’d recommend at least four bottles per travel day. It’ll be handy at the hotel and helps save stops when you’re driving. It’s also good to have in case of car problems.

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11. Pack light.

The less you have to schlep when you check into a hotel, especially with a dog, the better. Pack one small rolling bag for overnights plus a tote for your dog’s bowl and food. It’ll save time during check out, too.

12. Always check the weather before you leave.

Check the weather before you leave and consider which route is safest. There are plenty of apps for this but I like Yahoo weather the most. On my trip out I found myself under a huge dark cloud with funnels while passing through Iowa. I got lucky and it barely rained, but it was pretty scary for a while there. You can believe I checked the weather on my way back to California.

highway 80, roadtrip, tips for driving cross country, sunrise
Highway 80 on the open road at sunrise

13. Enjoy the open roads on highway 80 West and Highway 80 East

You’d be surprised how easy it is to drive through Nevada, Wyoming, Nebraska and Iowa. There aren’t a lot of cars on the road, and the truckers will pull into the right lane to let you pass as you approach. Plus, the speed limits range up to 80 mph. So it’s a long distance, but the roads are wide open.

You don’t hear about someone driving cross country alone very often, but it’s not as hard as you’d think if you’re well prepared. And if you have a chance to take man’s best friend on your trip, even better. They’re the perfect companion because they agree with every choice you make along the way.

This is a guest post by Leslie Drate, self-confessed travel addict and dog lover.